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Education revolution under fire -

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Education revolution under fire

Broadcast: 18/03/2010

Reporter: Kerry O'Brien

Education Minister Julia Gillard speaks with Kerry O'Brien.

Transcript

KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: And in Parliament today, the Opposition also sought to target Deputy
Prime Minister and Education Minister Julia Gillard over claims that there's been a significant
blowout in construction costs for school building projects as part of the Government's huge package
of stimulus spending.

The Australian newspaper ran a front page story today claiming runaway costs and inflated building
charges, claims the Minister strongly rejected.

I spoke with the Deputy Prime Minister from our Canberra studio earlier this afternoon.

Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd's opening gambit in debate against Tony Abbott in the Parliament today
was to say "It's good to have Mark Latham back". Given that you were one of Mark Latham's closest
supporters when he was Labor leader, how do you feel now about that kind of sarcasm linking the
personality of Latham to that of Abbott in such a clearly derogatory way?

JULIA GILLARD, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, Kerry, life's moved on and in fact there's a long
standing linking of these two personalities. You'd probably recall the Michael Duffy book, which
about Mark Latham and Tony Abbott way back when.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Yeah, but that wasn't derogatory.

JULIA GILLARD: (Laughs) Well, I must admit I never read it, Kerry, so I couldn't tell you. But Mark
Latham's obviously moved on.

He's still commentating from time to time and I'd have to say, Kerry, I don't agree with his
commentary. He was in the Financial Review today criticising MySchool. We're seeing a little unholy
alliance here, Kerry - Mark Latham criticising MySchool, the New South Wales Teachers' Federation,
The Greens, the Shooters Party, the New South Wales Liberal Party and Tony Abbott all in a cabal
anti-MySchool.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But rather an odd comparison, don't you think given that Mark Latham was the Labor
Leader elected by Labor caucus? Why?

JULIA GILLARD: Kerry, I think you've got to lighten up a bit. Obviously, and you would have been
involved in the commentary yourself when Mark Latham left politics about the circumstances of him
leaving politics and about some of his volatility in behaviour with Tony Abbott. We are seeing
erraticism and volatility, so this is one way of pointing to the fact that Tony Abbott doesn't say
the same thing twice.

KERRY O'BRIEN: On education, your school building program under the stimulus package took another
hit in the Australian newspaper this morning. The heading, "School costs double quoted price", the
implication being that many builders are doing very well at the Government's expense.

As a for instance, a $400,000 budget blow out to near $1 million in one school. Do you have any
idea how much money is being misspent because of the haste in spending this stimulus money?

JULIA GILLARD: Well, Kerry, nice headline on the Australian, pity about the content, because what
it was pointing to was two schools: one, Hastings Public School that had already been identified
for audit by the New South Wales Audit Squad well before any of this publicity; and number two, it
was pointing to the Berriedale School and as I dealt with in the Parliament today, the comparisons
of costs there are simply not accurate.

And, Kerry, in the Parliament today I dealt with a number of other claims from the Opposition - you
know, claims that are being made by Opposition members who haven't even bothered to speak to their
local school principal. And if they did, they'd find out that the claims they're making are
nonsense.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But the...

JULIA GILLARD: Kerry, this is a big program and there are going to be some projects that have
difficulties. That's why we've got auditing as part of the process.

KERRY O'BRIEN: The Hastings School that you referred to, you say "Well there was an audit process
already in train", but that doesn't address the claim that in that school the building program out
blew out from an estimate of $400,000 to nearly $1 million?

JULIA GILLARD: Let the auditors do their work. The reason you have auditors, the reason you build
an audit process into a program - and this is the New South Wales Audit Squad - the reason you do
that is so, if there are problems identified, independent people can go in and sort it out. That's
what's happening now.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But I guess, of course, if the horse has bolted, the money's spent. The New South
Wales Teachers' Federation talks about principals, teachers and parents being concerned about
estimates blowing out and payments to builders way beyond normal construction costs. They're the
people on the ground.

Are you confident that the various audits are actually efficient themselves, are actually
preventing waste, or arriving, as I said, after the horse has bolted?

JULIA GILLARD: Kerry, give me a break. The New South Wales Teachers' Federation is in a vicious
dispute with the Government because they're anti MySchool. They don't want the My School website,
they never wanted it and, of course, they're talking about boycotting the national tests. Now
you're...

KERRY O'BRIEN: But-but does that mean that their arguments or claims are specious on everything?

JULIA GILLARD: It does, I think, mean that when claims are made by the New South Wales Teachers'
Federation, people might pause for one moment and say "Gee, if this New South Wales Teachers'
Federation is in a vicious dispute with the Government about MySchool, I wonder if that's coloured
the claims that they're making?"

But, Kerry, I'm happy to hear about claims from principals, from teachers, from parents. There are
auditing processes in BER (Building the Education Revolution). There are complaints mechanisms
available and let's look at the statistics about those complaints mechanisms. I operate one of them
in my department - around 24,000 projects, 9,500 schools and we've had less than 100 complaints.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But...

JULIA GILLARD: Let's get a grip on size and scale here and the auditing that is inherent in the way
that we are rolling out the Building the Education Revolution program.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But the common factor in all of them is that the money is being spent to a very
tight timetable. There is an obvious question to be put here and it is, why should people have
faith that the billions in your school spending program are being spent more efficiently than the
$1 billion spent so far in the Government's failed insulation program?

JULIA GILLARD: Well, these are two different circumstances in terms of the programs, Kerry. They're
both economic stimulus, they're both being delivered quickly. Obviously when you're talking about
building programs in schools you're talking about accredited builders who have passed the Working
with Children check and all of the rest of the regulation that goes with being allowed on a school
site to do construction.

So we are not talking about the same circumstances there was in insulation, where people who had
never been in the industry before suddenly came into the industry. And yes, this program's being
run out quickly and there's a reason for that. It's economic stimulus to support Australian jobs
during the global financial crisis and global economic downturn.

KERRY O'BRIEN: You've been through the Senate mill with your changes to the Youth Allowance Scheme.
When you're travelling through Australia over the next few months on the campaign trail, how are
you going to explain to- the rather arbitrary way that lines on a map will determine which students
get more generous access to the allowance and which get less?

JULIA GILLARD: Kerry, I'll just engage in a bit of straight talk and tell people the truth - and
the truth is the Government set out to deliver a Youth Allowance program that would be better and
fairer right around the nation: 150,000 scholarships, 29 times more than was available before;
100,000 kids getting Youth Allowance for the first time, or more Youth Allowance; the age of
independents coming down; our analysis by electorate showing more people in each electorate would
get Youth Allowance than ever before.

We then had to bargain with the Opposition to get it through. The Opposition started with a
multi-billion dollar, you know, ask, more than $1 billion. They settled for something
revenue-neutral, around $95 million paid for in other parts of the package. They asked for this
regional break out and we delivered it to them off maps that have been used by Government ever
since 2001. But the...

KERRY O'BRIEN: But the bottom line- But the bottom line about those maps is that, for instance,
Townsville, 1,400 kilometres from Brisbane, the students in Townsville will be treated differently
to the students in Rockhampton, 800 kilometres from Brisbane. Now why would you make that
distinction between the students in those two relatively remote places?

JULIA GILLARD: Well, when you say "I" Kerry, I agreed with this to get the legislation through the
Parliament. It's what Mr Pyne, the Shadow Minister for the Liberal Party, asked me for in order to
get it through. So my choice was not give all this new money to students 'cause I couldn't get the
legislation through, or accept Mr Pyne's proposition which required there being lines on maps.

KERRY O'BRIEN: I noticed a story this week quoting Centrebet that the odds on you of becoming Prime
Minister before the next election have shortened from $5.25 to $3.75. Apparently someone's backed
you in to the tune of $2,500. What do you think the odds should be?

JULIA GILLARD: Look, I don't know who's backed me in, but I wish I'd been able to speak to them
before they placed the bet and I would have said to them "For goodness sake, give your money to
charity". I'm afraid they've done their dough, Kerry.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Julia Gillard, thanks for talking to us.